Last Sunday, to make the most of the autumnal sunshine and the riot of anthocyanins and carotenoids, I wandered up to the Common. I’m sure that New England in the Fall can offer a more impressive display, but it makes for a far less practical ambulatory excursion from my demesne. Even were I the proud possessor of seven league boots, there would still remain the watery challenge of bridging the Atlantic without a convenient island chain and with ever declining sea ice to use as stepping stones.
The trees looked suitably beautiful, captured part-way through their annual striptease. I attempted to capture their colourful burlesque using my smartphone to share its glory with my adoring fans but, while the camera may – like Sir Mix-a-Lot, but without his gluteal obsession – be incapable of falsehood, it does not tell the whole truth. Still, for what it’s worth here is one mellow fruit harvested from my several attempts:
Despite my demonstrably limited photographic skills, and my inability (or lack of interest) in the selfie, I do find myself framing my view of the world to improve its aesthetics. Recently, while waiting for the (unseasonal) green man to show his face (in profile at least), I found myself adjusting my position at a Pelican crossing to optimise the positioning of a nearby branch against the near-full moon which lay behind it. Oh yes, that really happened – I even had to crouch down a little to achieve the ‘perfect’ effect. I suppose that I, at least, should be grateful for the chronic underfunding of mental health services which leaves me free to roam the streets.
As the image shows, I was not the only person to spend my afternoon on the Common: though I was probably the only one listening to Hear and Now, brought from Radio 3 to my temporally out-of-phase ears by the magic of the iPlayer. This was a concert hosted and curated by James McVinnie – who I slightly know or have at least shared a beer with on a couple of occasions – of music from the Bedroom Community and mostly featuring the organ of the Royal Festival Hall. It made for rather effective accompaniment to my perambulations.
Over the months, I have seen a wide range of activities pursued by people on the Common. I have spoken before of those practising in the hope of gaining sporting prowess, including the playing of Muggle Quidditch. Training was occurring again on Sunday, but I suppose that the university team have a triumphant position to defend this season having topped the league in 2014/5. I also realised that muggle players do retain a vestigial broomstick – though it would be of little use for sweeping (or, indeed, flying). Slightly closer to flying, I have often seen a rope strung up between two trees and young people attempting to walk across it – something I might be tempted to try myself once my gymnastic-honed balancing skills have improved a little further.
There are obviously those like myself out for a constitutional: often with a dog, ageing relative or pram-borne infant in tow. Barbecuing is also a common choice – and given the autumnal absence of the ice-cream van (a foolish waste of a solid business opportunity) a tempting option for the peckish. In the past, I have seen a couple practising some form of dance which I took to be Latin. They made this look a lot more sensual and fun then anything which televised pro-celebrity dancing contests have suggested is strictly ballroom. There is also a band of folk who re-enact Norman combat (and we’re talking Angevin here, not Wisdom or Schwarzkopf) with swords, spears, shields and some degree of vaguely appropriate dress. I’ve also seen archery – though this seems to have a more modern vibe and seems independent of the descendants of King Rollo (not the harmless duffer that children’s television might have led you to believe).
As well as the opportunities for people-watching, the Common is also pretty good for wildlife. On Sunday, I found a tree full of tits: stratified by altitude. The Great Tits commanded the heights, below them the Blue and at eye-level the delightful antics of their Long-Tailed brethren (though they are only very distantly related). Actually, despite being a scant mile from any plausible definition of the city centre, my garret does provide hints of a pseudo-rural idyll – even without the short stroll to the Common. A few evenings ago, when I was being uncharacteristically quiet (not that I am normally an especially noisy neighbour, just rarely entirely silent), I could hear tawny owls courting in (presumably) nearby trees. Are they following the foxes into our cities? Will we soon find owls rifling through our bins? People laughed at Futurama, but they were the first to identify the menace that owls will pose in the future. What other apparently foolish predictions may yet be proved accurate?